British Steam Uncovered In Darkest Africa

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Lost Locomotives Discovered In Sierra Leone

I found this interesting article recently, talking about a discovery as recent as 2005, of a shed full of locos including a Garratt, hidden from view in the 1970s to save these precious steam locos from the blowtorch back in 1975 when all of Sierra Leone’s railways were abandoned.

With the hope of bring tourists to this country, ravaged by Ebola in recent years, a group of enthusiasts has restored a Garratt and a 100 year old loco to make a great display in the National Railway Museum.

The article makes interesting reading, although there is no mention of restoring engines to operating condition.

Leave a comment if you can shed more light on this story.

  • Sierra Leone’s 350 miles of track was torn apart in the 1970s when country’s national rail network was shut down

  • It was thought all trains became scrap metal but a handful of the British relics were hidden away in warehouses

  • They’ve now been restored and it’s hoped they will attract tourism and investment to disease-ravaged country

By Jack Crone for MailOnline

Published: 07:58 EST, 21 July 2015 | Updated: 09:03 EST, 21 July 2015

Thought to have been dismantled during Sierra Leone’s civil war – these are the long-lost British locomotives humanitarians hope will help the country recover from the Ebola crisis.

The steam engines were built in the UK and shipped over to Sierra Leone during the early and middle 20th century – when the country had more than 350 miles of track.

But the African nation’s national rail network was shut in 1975 and the tracks were torn up, with most of the trains being taken apart for scrap.

British relic: A century-old British locomotive called Nellie has been restored after lying hidden in a warehouse in Sierra Leone for decades 

British relic: A century-old British locomotive called Nellie has been restored after lying hidden in a warehouse in Sierra Leone for decades

The impact of the railway’s loss was huge as thousands of farmers who had been able to transport fresh produce across the country in just a few hours were now reduced to using dusty roads.

Many farms ceased to exist and friends and families living far apart suffered.

Sierra Leone’s train stations, many with familiar-sounding names such as Hastings, Waterloo and Bradford, all closed – as did every other station in the country.

It was previously thought all the locomotives were lost, but a handful of them – relics of Britain’s industrial age – were hidden in warehouses in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown.

It’s said railway staff secretly hid and locked their favourite locomotives away from potential scrapping in sheds at the Freetown docks.

Amazingly, the carriages were used as shelter by refugees during the country’s civil war of 1992 to 2002.

The models hidden include an old works shunter – now called Nellie – which was built in 1915.

Thought to have been lost: A British Garratt locomotive found in Freetown is pictured in 2004 prior to the restoration work beginning

Thought to have been lost: A British Garratt locomotive found in Freetown is pictured in 2004 prior to the restoration work beginning

Restoration project: The same Garratt train, pictured as it looks today, has been restored by museum workers in Sierra Leone

Restoration project: The same Garratt train, pictured as it looks today, has been restored by museum workers in Sierra Leone

Hidden for decades: The African nation's national rail network was shut in 1975 and the tracks were torn up, with most of the trains being taken apart for scrap metal

Hidden for decades: The African nation’s national rail network was shut in 1975 and the tracks were torn up, with most of the trains being taken apart for scrap metal

There is also a Beyer Garratt locomotive and several carriages, including a royal carriage – built for Queen Elizabeth II who was due to visit in 1961 – which was never used.

After the war, the trains were discovered by Colonel Steve Davies who, along with Sierra Leone’s President Kabbah, helped rescue the machines from Chinese scrap men, reports Rail Magazine.

The Sierra Leone National Railway Museum (SLNRM) was established in 2005 by President Kabbah, not only as a way of bringing tourism to such a poor region but to protect Sierra Leone’s railway heritage.

To aid in the museum’s development, Colonel Davies, who was at the time the director of the National Railway Museum (NRM) in York, set up the Friends of SLNRM.

Railway expertise available in Britain was lent to the ambitious restoration project and volunteers from York’s NRM have since visited Sierra Leone to help with the maintenance of the locomotives.

It’s hoped the project will bring foreign tourists, investment and jobs back to the region and help educate young people living in the country.

Friends of the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum chairman Helen Ashby told Rail Magazine: ‘Many years ago Nellie the Engine and her later cousins helped build a nation 3,000 miles away.

Now, 100 years later, these products of Britain’s industrial past are engines for growth once again: they can help rebuild that nation and help people rebuild their lives. The museum creates a funding stream directly into the heart of a country where most people die before their 50th birthday.’

‘Never before has a heritage railway project had a chance to provide a humanitarian role on this scale, but now that time has come. The team in Freetown has a chance to empower their nation through cultural links, education, job creation and direct aid and investment.’

The Royal carriage: One of the recovered steam engines included a a royal carriage – built for Queen Elizabeth II who was due to visit in 1961 – which was never used 

The Royal carriage: One of the recovered steam engines included a a royal carriage – built for Queen Elizabeth II who was due to visit in 1961 – which was never used

Restored: Museum workers are seen restoring the Royal carriage attached to the Garratt locomotive back in 2011

Restored: Museum workers are seen restoring the Royal carriage attached to the Garratt locomotive back in 2011

Hidden for decades: It's said railway staff secretly hid and locked their favourite locomotives away from potential scrapping in sheds at the Freetown docks during the 1970s

Hidden for decades: It’s said railway staff secretly hid and locked their favourite locomotives away from potential scrapping in sheds at the Freetown docks during the 1970s

Tourist attraction: It's hoped the project will bring foreign tourists, investment and jobs back to the region and help educate young people

Tourist attraction: It’s hoped the project will bring foreign tourists, investment and jobs back to the region and help educate young people

Hidden in warehouses: Amazingly, the carriages were used as shelter by refugees during the country's civil war of 1992 to 2002

Hidden in warehouses: Amazingly, the carriages were used as shelter by refugees during the country’s civil war of 1992 to 2002

British heritage: Colonel Steve Davies hands over old-branded materials to Sierra Leone museum workers - which came from the UK's National Rail Museum, based in York

British heritage: Colonel Steve Davies hands over old-branded materials to Sierra Leone museum workers – which came from the UK’s National Rail Museum, based in York

Ambitious: Railway expertise available in Britain was lent to the ambitious restoration project and volunteers from York's NRM have since visited Sierra Leone to help with the maintenance of the locomotives

Ambitious: Railway expertise available in Britain was lent to the ambitious restoration project and volunteers from York’s NRM have since visited Sierra Leone to help with the maintenance of the locomotives

A century old: 'Nellie' the works shunter was built in Britain in 1915 and shipped over to Sierra Leone before falling into disrepair

A century old: ‘Nellie’ the works shunter was built in Britain in 1915 and shipped over to Sierra Leone before falling into disrepair

Garratt locomotive: Workers add the finishing touches to the steam engine at Sierra Leone's National Railway Museum, established in 2005

Garratt locomotive: Workers add the finishing touches to the steam engine at Sierra Leone’s National Railway Museum, established in 2005

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